from Earshot Jazz, July 2010:
Ask The Ages
Brian Heaney/Dennis Rea/Stephen Parris Guitar Trio
Saturday, July 31, 8pm Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center
Some of the most compelling jazz-related music in the city over the last few years, but certainly not the most heralded, has been performed by an assortment of players in bands like Sunship and Black Math Quartet, along with others associated with the local umbrella organization, Monktail Creative Music Concern.
Here, now, is a new grouping of players from those quarters, one that promises soaring, imaginative music. Ask the Ages, named for a classic Sonny Sharrock album, has been put together by guitarist Brian Heaney, who is as captivating a musician as any on the local scene. A longtime member of the mighty quintet Sunship, and before that of Stinkhorn, Heaney has studied the greats of jazz, rock, and jazz-rock to emerge with a personal style at once gritty, searing, unpredictable, and brimming with humor and drama.
From Black Math Quartet – an ongoing project that gets out the slide rule and whacks jazz expectations all over the laboratory – Heaney brings to his new lineup a fine trumpet player, Matt Reid, who has a startling command of his horn, and of techniques for electronically bending it.
Bassist John Seman is a founding member and the current director of the Monktail outfit. He honed his ear studying ethnomusicology and composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Maryland, where he studied bass as well as North Indian, Indonesian, and West African musical theory and technique. In College Park, his instructors included the 149th-generation Senegalese Mandinka master, Jali Djimo Kouyate.
His broad experience expresses itself in his double-bass performance, which always is sympathetic to the soloists, and as solid as his sound is large. He lends a thrumming, driving foundation to a wide array of bands around Seattle, including many Monktail bands, “Butoh-bizarre-o” group The Degenerate Art Ensemble, and post-punk performance artists Mail Order Bride.
On drums, Greg Campbell is similarly vast in his range of capabilities. On a drum kit often altered with whatever percussive additions come to hand, he underpins many local outfits with assurance and flair.
As for Stuart Dempster, he is a trombone master of wide renown. Retired from teaching and leading the Contemporary Group at the UW, he wields vast experience, retains a freshness and quest for innovation that players a third his age should envy, and an expansive spirit on stage, to top it all off.
The band’s repertoire, says Heaney, includes Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda,” Sun Ra’s “We Travel the Spaceways,” Sonny Sharrock’s “Who Does She Hope to Be,” from Ask The Ages, and riff-oriented, pulsing, bass-driven tunes that Heaney has honed with Sunship and Black Math Quartet.
Making guest appearances on some of Ask the Ages appearances will be two performers.
The first – an Alice Coltrane connection – is Melissa Walsh, the principal harpist with the Northwest Symphony Orchestra. Walsh’s many other activities in music have included contributing alongside Dempster and a host of other locally based luminaries to experimental drone/doom metal band Sunn O)))’s 2009 album Monoliths & Dimensions. She often performs contemporary music with the Washington Composers Forum and in the pit of the 5th Avenue Theater.
Also making a guest appearance is Archana Bennur, who has memorably collaborated with Sunship. Bennur is a highly rated performer of Karnatak classical singing. Among her honours is to have been named a “graded artist” by All India Radio. She comes from a family with a long history of classical South Indian musical accomplishment, and has won many awards for her performances in prestigious settings in India.
Opening the evening will be a guitar trio featuring Heaney and two of the region’s other guitar stand-outs: Dennis Rea, whose current projects include Moraine and Iron Style Kim, and Stephen Parris, another Monktail member who can be heard playing mightily in Special Ops.
Admission for the performance is $5-15, sliding scale; Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, 4th floor, Seattle (corner of Sunnyside & 50th St. in Wallingford). Other Ask the Ages performances: July 17, Pinehurstfest (details online); August 14, Sounds Outside, Cal Anderson Park, Capitol Hill; August 19, Northgate Concert series, Northgate Community Center, 6:30-8:30pm.